Being surprised by a movie is one of the unique joys that cinema can offer, a feeling that is nearly impossible to replicate elsewhere. Every time we watch a movie we’re investing something, usually a healthy (or unhealthy) portion of time and money, and the hope is that we’ll have a return on this investment in the form of being entertained, feeling feelings, and receiving inspiration. With this comes expectations that we tend to wish will be fulfilled, which is often where genre comes into play: the anticipation that because we’re seeing a science fiction or western or horror movie (or the surprise of an animated movie, like Up, featuring possibly the most elegant tear-jerker sequences ever conceived), a certain set of familiar concepts and sensibilities will come across.
There is pleasure in having these desires fulfilled, but also in having them be upended or subverted without warning. Movies that make this subversive tendency the point of their existence can be incredibly powerful. Some are more subtle about teasing expectations for us to latch onto and then taking us in a different direction completely. And there are lots of movies where this happens in one scene, where we think we know where a movie is going until a particular moment or set of moments gets thrown at us and we become disoriented or stunned in silence and pause.
This can occur in the very beginning of a movie or at the very end, but its effect is profound no matter where it pops up. Even if it’s incredible subtle and beautifully underplayed, those surprising scenes or moments make us sit up in our chairs and take note that this is not the movie we were expecting. In the best instances, that’s an exciting realization.
Here are 13 movies that completely shift gears before our eyes over the course of a single scene.
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